One of the top prizes of the trade deadline – if he ultimately gets dealt – is Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm. A top-four blueliner is hard to come by at this time of year, especially one that’s on an affordable contract for next season. Accordingly, there will be no shortage of suitors, even in a salary cap environment where most contenders can’t afford to add anyone of consequence without offsetting money. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports in his latest 31 Thoughts column that the Jets and Bruins are among the teams that are interested in Ekholm’s services.
The 30-year-old has been a minutes-eater for several seasons now, logging more than 23 per night over each of the last four seasons, a number that hasn’t dipped much this year as Ekholm is at 22:18 per game in 2020-21. He’s playing at a 33-point pace offensively, a mark that he has reached in four of the last five seasons as well. Often matched against top lines from other teams, he’s someone that can conceivably slot onto the top pairing which will have many contenders intrigued.
The easy parallel to draw in terms of what the cost will be is Toronto’s acquisition of Jake Muzzin two years ago. Muzzin’s contract situation was similar to Ekholm’s deal ($3.75MM this season and next before being UFA-eligible) and Friedman notes that Nashville is using Muzzin’s return as a template for these talks. That would include a first-round pick plus a pair of quality prospects.
There is definitely a case to be made for both Boston and Winnipeg to pay that price. The Bruins never replaced Torey Krug who left for St. Louis in free agency last summer which has left a vacancy in their top-four. Their younger blueliners have held their own in that role but if they have eyes on contending, they’d be in better shape with a proven veteran in that spot. Jarred Tinordi, a recent waiver claim to cover for some recent injuries, suffered an upper-body injury tonight against Pittsburgh as well.
As for the Jets, defense has been a considerable weakness for them the last couple of years with the exodus of talent they’ve had. Two years ago, Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, and Ben Chiarot were all fixtures on their back end but all four are gone now with Neal Pionk being the only impact blueliner added since then. Ekholm would form a nice one-two punch on the left side with Josh Morrissey and give that unit some stability. Of course, there is the quarantine period to contend with but GM Kevin Cheveldayoff indicated yesterday that it’s not a concern for him; they’ve already made one big move this season with that in place as it is.
Ekholm has made it known that his preference is to remain in Nashville but as Friedman puts it, the veteran may be the ‘belle of the trading ball’ at the moment. If that’s the case, GM David Poile may eventually be offered an offer that’s too good to pass up on between now and next month’s trade deadline which means the defenseman may not get his wish.